The Wesley Deaconess Order 1890-1978
Dorothy Graham has delved deeply into the original records, and has done a magnificent job in bringing shape to a story which must at times have seemed confused to those who lived through it. Just as Methodism took so long to make up its mind that it was right for women to be presbyters, so it could never quite decide what work it wanted its deaconesses to do. But perhaps that is in essence the greatness of the story. Here were women willing to do virtually anything if it seemed right to the Church and relevant to God’s Kingdom. [Rev Brian J. N. Galliers, WDO Warden 1972-80].
The book Saved to Serve: The Story of the Wesley Deaconess Order 1890-1978 [Graham, E Dorothy, Peterborough, 2002] tells the story of the Order.
‘It is an honouring of the past. But it is much more than that… we have example, challenge and encouragement for the ministry of service to which every Christian is called.’
[Rev Dr Christina Le Moignan, President of the Methodist Conference 2001-02]
The Wesley Deaconess Order was founded in 1890 by the Wesleyan minister Thomas Bowman Stephenson (1839-1912), who recognized that an Order of dedicated women (referred to as deaconesses or sisters) had a valuable part to play in the life of the Church. Its first residential House was in London, named Mewburn House after its donor. Others were opened in Norwich (Bowman House), Leicester and Salford. Stephenson was Warden of the Order as well as Principal of the Children’s Home and Orphanage until 1900 when he moved to the Ilkley Circuit. The headquarters of the Order, known as the Deaconess Institute, was transferred there when a former boys’ school was purchased in 1902, providing accommodation for the warden and 27 students. The Order’s combined headquarters and training facility remained in Ilkley until transferred to Birmingham in 1967, following the closure of Headingley College, Leeds. From 1968 to 1970 it was associated with Handsworth College; then followed it to Edgbaston, where its new headquarters in Pritchatt’s Road were opened in 1971.
Various Anniversaries of the Deaconess Institute
United Methodist Church, Deaconess Institute, 34th Anniversary, 1925
United Methodist Church, Deaconess Institute, 35th Anniversary, 1926
United Methodist Church, Deaconess Institute, 37th Anniversary and Reunion of Sisters, 1928
United Methodist Church, Deaconess Institute, 38th Anniversary, 1929
United Methodist Church, Deaconess Institute, 39th Anniversary and Reunion of Sisters, 1930
United Methodist Church, Deaconess Institute, 41st Anniversary and Reunion of Sisters, 1932
Various documents and correspondence